RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And I'm Rachel Martin with a question that vexes us all. Are Canadians really nicer than Americans? There's news from the department of stereotypes that it could be true. Here's David Greene.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Researchers in Canada have determined that Twitter users in their country tend to be more positive than Twitter users here in the United States of America. In short, does that mean that Canadians are nicer, at least, online, than Americans or something like that? Let's bring in Bryor Snefjella. He is one of the researchers at McMaster University and a lead author of this study.
Bryor, welcome to our program.
BRYOR SNEFJELLA: Hi, hi.
GREENE: So what'd you actually find here?
SNEFJELLA: So what we found is that if you go into Twitter and you quantify the most sort of characteristic language of Canadians and Americans, you find that that characteristic language really, really strongly matches the sort of established stereotypes of Canadians and Americans.
GREENE: What were you actually doing in terms of this research? Were you collecting, like, a huge portfolio of tweets?
SNEFJELLA: Yeah. Yeah. So the data set for the study is 40 million tweets.
GREENE: Forty million?
GREENE: I'm assuming you weren't reading all of those.
SNEFJELLA: No. So we're a group of computational linguists. So we're parsing out the words or other symbols and then counting them on computers.
GREENE: OK. Can you give me an example of some of the words that really stand out in Canadian tweets versus American tweets?
SNEFJELLA: Yeah. Sure. So for Canada, you're talking about words like great, amazing, awesome, thanks being very characteristic.
SNEFJELLA: For Americans, it's words like - well, it's swear words of all kinds.
GREENE: Yeah. Some you probably can't even say on the radio. But, yeah. OK.
SNEFJELLA: Exactly. And then a lot of words about negative emotional states, like hate, miss, bored, tired.
GREENE: OK. So why do you think Americans are using more negative words like that? Are we just kind of more morose and unhappy?
SNEFJELLA: Well, we're really, really curious about why this is, but it's a very, very difficult question to answer.
GREENE: All right.
SNEFJELLA: There is a whole body of research in social psychology that basically says that those stereotypes of us aren't true. If you just survey lots of Canadians and Americans...
GREENE: Are not true?
SNEFJELLA: Yeah. No, that our personality traits, on average, just don't seem to be any different. But people really, really believe those stereotypes are true.
GREENE: Are you on Twitter? Do you use Twitter?
SNEFJELLA: Very minimally.
GREENE: OK. (Laughter). I'm just wondering if there's, like, any advice you could give to Americans who sit there stewing on social media for hours, like, just angrily tweeting.
SNEFJELLA: Well, I think, you know, if there's a takeaway from the study, you wind up with the picture that, you know, it might be appealing to think that there's, like, a Canadian or American essence that makes us think we're different, or something. But our data actually isn't compatible with that. It says something more like we construct our stereotypes through our language choices. We're actually pointing that maybe the true thing isn't, you know, our characters. Maybe the true thing is how we choose to talk.
So this is a case where maybe it does say something about our cultures, our interactions, our expectations of each other or how we compare ourselves to others, but it also says that, you know, that should be changeable. It's not a fact about our personalities. So if what we're finding in this study is the sum of the language choices of Canadians and Americans, we can make different choices and wind up with a different picture of who we are.
GREENE: Well, listen. This has been really cool. And it's great research, and I'm going to, you know, have some things to think about next time I'm on Twitter. Thanks a lot.
SNEFJELLA: Hey. No problem.
GREENE: Bryor Snefjella is a researcher at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "SAY")
MARTIN: Seems like an appropriate moment to give a shout-out to our former editor, David McGuffin, a Canadian who is super, super nice.
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